Finally, the Olympics are over. Hopefully now, the complaining will stop. I'm a sports guy. I love sports and I love the Olympics. Yet, as a talk radio host I have to give time to all voices. I'm surpised at the number of people who either dislike or despise the Olympics. And they have a litany of gripes. It's just about the money for these athletes, it cost too much money, they all cheat, in an already divided world we should not be divided as such, blah blah blah.
First, is the complaint about the athletes or the officials. That it's fixed or that they all cheat. Believe me, I heard it all after the women's soccer match against the United States. Was it bad officiating? Yes. Does that mean it's a conspiracy? Hardly. One of our wrestlers got bit today in the quarter-final and it wasn't called. Worse, the biter went on to win gold while our guy only got a band-aid. Bad calls happen everyday in sports. World Series have been lost on a bad call. Officials sometimes make questionable calls that drive us insane when they break against our team. It's sports, you better learn to deal with bad calls because they happen every once and a while and if you play or watch long enough, one will affect you.
Secondly, that the athletes must be on something to get this far. Even though we now have the most strenuous testing programs in place and athletes get tested on regular basis both in and out of competition. It's surprising we saw so few doping infractions at these Games. In fact, only one and it was marijuana. People cheat in our society, plain and simple. We had a kitchen company busted in Niagara this week for allegedly defrauding dozens of families out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Fareed Zakaria of Time Magazine and CNN was caught plagiarizing an article this week and suspended a month. Servers in St. Catharines were caught under-reporting their taxable income by the CRA. It's not just sports. That's not to say it's acceptable, at all. But with an engaged media and fervent drug-testing, the ability for cheating to occur at the Olympics, while present, seems to be smaller than in the rest of our world. We give more resources to ferret out the cheating at the Games than we do in the rest of society. Which means we seem to have less cheating. And, with retroactive testing the IOC will store all samples from London and can retest them, with retroactive disqualifications allowed, until the statute of limitations expires in August 2020. Maybe the cheaters we're one step ahead, but we'll have eight years to find out.
People complain about the nationalism involved. That there is just have too much fervent jingoism to paraphrase the buzzkill Morrissey. But this is how we divide up the world. This is how we compare things. Whether it's health care systems, education scores, or death rates from cancer. We measure myriad things and compare them on a nation-by-nation basis. The Olympics tells the world about our athletic culture. We play these games and support these athletes. This hopefully reflects our culture of physical activity. Or, at least the culture we aspire to.
People really complain about the cost. They think the money could be better spent. One country, every two years, hosts an Olympics. Which means that almost all countries don't host them. And they all still have problems. If Great Britain spent a worst-case of $25-billion once on the games, it's less than 2% of of their GDP for one year. Lots of countries could spend money on all sorts of things - welfare, homelessness, sending mosquito nets to Africa - but they choose not to. People love to complain about misplaced priorities as if Olympic spending is taking away from other forms of government. It's simply not true. While England may have problems, they are no worse off than France, Spain, Germany, and Italy - none of which are hosting the games.
So why do governments line-up to host the Games? Are there new suckers every four years who can't look at the past mistakes? They do it because it's fun, it's memorable, and it makes the host nations happy. Plain and simple. Life is not all about working to pay the bills. We like to enjoy ourselves every once in a while. According to social scientists, over the past fifty years as Western nations have gotten much wealthier, they have not gotten much happier. Poor countries experience an increase in happiness with an increase in wealth - clean water and basic health care will do that. But, the pursuit of happiness is much trickier in an advanced nation. We have the basics and a strong social welfare net to protect the citizens. We need massive moments to unite and define us as a country and make us happier collectively. So, we host World Cups, and Olympics, and World Expositions. Okay, Expo 67 in Montreal is the last one that probably mattered, but it was magnificent for all who attended.
In the book Soccernomics, the authors examine the hosting of major soccer tournaments and note that host countries have much higher levels of happiness after the tournament. And it is not simply in the few months afterward, but the effect for hosting World Cups lasts for over four years! Imagine what the Olympics, an ever bigger, more involved undertaking would return in happiness to its hosts? But can we truly measure happiness? While, as a comparison to money we can. We can ask what is the equivalent amount of money it would take. Based on past examples, the increase in happiness in the UK would be the equivalent of $54-billion. That's over 100% return on the money they invested.
Take it down to the very personal level. One of the most fiscally irresponsible things people do in their lifetime is have a wedding. But, does anyone regret having one? Of course, not. Even with the ones that don't work out, those people do it all over again. We should put the money towards our mortgages or RRSPs, but instead we throw a lavish party. According to USA TODAY, the average American wedding last year cost over $26,000. This from a country just nosing out of a recession.
Simply put, it's the experience we crave. We might grumble about the venue, or the DJ got the cue wrong and Uncle Earl drank too much, but we pay for the memories that last a lifetime. It's a celebration amongst family and friends to mark this major milestone in our lives. It makes us happy. And so hosting a major party, that is the focus of the world's attention for two-plus weeks, has the same affect. The host nation grumbles about the cost before the curtain rises, celebrates like mad while the Games happen, and when it ends they give some advice to the next host as they bask in the glow for months afterwards. We, as guests, either visiting or on television, just have fun on someone else's dime.
The Olympics are amazing display of athleticism. The athletes inspire people around the world to push their own limits in terms of physical accomplishments. The reason they are so popular and the reason we watch and the reason why people allow to governments to spend billions on them is simple - we like them. But, it's not just because they play sports that we like. It's because we connect to the athletes as fellow human beings. We cheer when they win, get choked up when we see them cry. We feel the pride when they stand on a podium or hug their parents. You don't? No worries, put please quit griping. Watch something else next time.